Kidney infections

Kidneys are part of your urinary system and eliminate waste products and excess fluid through urine output. When a kidney becomes infected, it is not only painful but harmful to your overall health. 

So, what is a kidney infection? A kidney infection, also called a pyelonephritis, is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). The infection starts in your bladder or your urethra (a tube that connects to your bladder and makes it possible for your urine to pass outside of your body) and then moves into your kidneys.  

A kidney infection can be caused by viruses, bacterium, fungus or other similar organism that can only be seen with a microscope. Escherichia coli bacteria — known as E. coli — are a leading cause of kidney infection. Other risks include a blocked urinary tract, a weak immune system (if a person has diabetes, cancer or another health condition) or vesicoureteral reflux, a condition that causes urine to flow the wrong way from the bladder back up to the kidneys.  

How do I know if I have a kidney infection?

Symptoms of kidney infection include: 

  • Fever or chills
  • Urinating often
  • Pain in your side, back, groin and abdomen
  • Feeling a strong and persistent need to urinate
  • Burning pain as you urinate
  • Blood or pus in your urine
  • Strong, unpleasant urine odor
  • Dark, cola-colored urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Nausea or vomiting

What do I do if I think I have a kidney infection?

Most kidney infections appear suddenly and then disappear quickly after treatment with antibiotics which a doctor can prescribe. This type of kidney infection is called an acute kidney infection. 

Although most kidney infections can be treated, it is possible for a kidney infection to cause severe health problems. Neglecting treatment for a kidney infection can result in permanent damage to your kidneys and lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD). If left untreated, a kidney infection can spread to your blood and cause serious illness or death.  

It is important to call your doctor if you have some of the symptoms of a kidney infection. 

How to diagnose a kidney infection

Your doctor will check for tenderness in your abdomen and also run tests including: 

  • Urinalysis
  • Blood test
  • CT scan of the abdomen (a non-surgical test that uses X-rays and computerized images)
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP; an X-ray of the kidneys, ureters and bladder)

7 steps to prevent kidney infections

There are actions you can take that may help prevent kidney infections: 

  1. Drink plenty of fluids, about 64-128 ounces each day, to help wash away bacteria.
  2. Drink cranberry juice to help remove certain forms of bacteria from remaining in the bladder.
  3. Urinate after having sexual intercourse to help flush away bacteria.
  4. Clean your genital area by using a gentle, fragrance-free soap.
  5. After urinating, women should wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from spreading.
  6. Don’t ignore the urge to urinate.
  7. Women are advised not to use vaginal sprays or douches.

Summary

Kidney infections are preventable and treatable. Ignoring them can cause lasting damage to your kidneys, which can lead to chronic kidney disease and other health problems. If you experience any kidney infection symptoms, from pain during urination to a change in the color of your urine, call your doctor to get properly diagnosed and treated.

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